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The making of Wreckers 10: The appeal of the House of Lords

Updated Sunday 29th April 2007

Preparing for the series on wreckers, the Timewatch team consult ancient documents in the public archives at Kew and the House of Lords.

The Timewatch Team diary about the making of the Wreckers programme.

Tuesday 24 April

Today is our London archives day. We meet at the Public Record Office in Kew and are taken up to the repositories for our filming. This is where all the actual documents are stored in long moveable shelf stacks. I have already ordered up the boxes with the relevant documents in them but when they arrive I have the unenviable task of sifting through hundreds of handwritten documents, trying to decipher writing to find the exact sentence we want to show on camera.

These boxes are a treasure trove of private correspondence, formal documents and government papers all bundled together in no particular order. One of the things we have come to film are the questionnaire documents relating to the establishment of the rural constabulary in 1839, among which are questionnaires filled in by the local coastguards about wrecking pursuits in their area.

Dashing across London [Image: Thinkstock] Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Thinkstock
Dashing across London

They are wonderful pieces of history, all with elaborate swirling hand writing and giving some very colourful descriptions of wreckers, written by local authorities clearly coloured by the Victorian sensibilities. We film as much as we can in our allotted few hours before making a dash across London to the Parliamentary Archives.

At the House of Lords, we are ushered through security and taken up several staircases and along twisting corridors into the tiny but crammed Archive Room. Incredibly in here are hundreds of years worth of Acts of Parliament that govern our country, all in their original parchment form, rolled up and stacked one on top of another rather like rolls of carpet.

The one we have come to see is the slightly obscure Act of 1753 but which holds special resonance for us as it is contains a clause on false lights.

As we take it off the shelf and unroll it, I cannot help but wonder if anyone has opened this particular parchment since it was placed here more than two centuries ago. It’s always such a privilege going behind the scenes in these places and getting access to such unique documents.

Find out more

More on the Timewatch Wreckers programme

Study history with The Open University

Discover the secrets of old documents with Breaking The Seal

 

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